“He” is Donald Trump. The question refers to his plans for the 2024 election. According to the Washington Post, the lame duck president is considering a campaign to retake the Oval Office in 2024. Given how many Republicans undoubtedly would like the idea, even the most surprising element in the Post’s report — that Trump could announce his bid by the end of this year — cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Smart money would bet that Trump will at least gesture toward 2024 sometime soon. The reasons for this, beyond the poll numbers, must include the frame of mind reflected in his refusal to concede his 2020 defeat and his devotion to the wild notion that he was somehow cheated out of a second term.
Beyond mere pig-headedness, Trump’s go-down-with-the-ship pose aligns with his political brand, which emphasizes the notion that he is unconventional, combative and relentless. It also allows him to shift from one powerful mythic native, that of the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” outsider who would “drain the swamp” of politics, to a new one that would make him a noble victim who, like the movie character Rocky, bravely returns to the ring.
The movie comparisons are apt because the President is, among other things, a gifted dramatist who spoke of “central casting” cabinet picks and reportedly considered wearing a “Superman” shirt when he left Walter Reed after getting treated for Covid-19.
Money could flow to Trump if he sells tickets to his rallies and reaps profits from sales of official merchandise. More could come in the form of donations to political action committees that he would control. The President has already sent out numerous email and text-message fundraising pitches for a committee called Save America. While some of the money has been used to fund Trump’s legal battle over the 2020 vote, most of it is now reportedly going toward future political activity.
But a caveat: While Trump would find many financial and ego-boosting reasons to run, he could risk a civil war within the GOP triggered by those Republicans who have paid their dues and waited patiently for their turn at a presidential run.
One thing that is certain: Trump redux would offer the country a spectacle not seen before and for which we have no model.
Now consigned to the small club of presidents who failed to win reelection, Trump needs a new predecessor to emulate. In the past, Trump has indicated that his Oval Office role model was Andrew Jackson, the populist who served two successive terms and whose cruel treatment of native tribes found echoes in Trump’s treatment of undocumented immigrants.
But perhaps the only available facsimile for a possible future presidency is Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms, as the 22nd and 24th president — even though this is hardly a good fit. Unlike Trump, Cleveland served a long political apprenticeship as a sheriff, mayor, and governor. Also, Cleveland won the popular vote in each of the three elections he entered. (The middle one he lost in the electoral college.) Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million and to Biden by double that number.
Would Trump risk the ignominy of a third presidential campaign in which the majority might reject him? This answer would be moot if he used a 2024 effort to distract from future events (like his legal troubles) or if health issues render his effort untenable.
Either way, the Trump ’24 notion could well confer short-term rewards for his wallet and his ego, which, his record suggests, he cannot resist.